Senior PLA naval officer pledges 'bigger and better' aircraft carriers

Senior PLA naval officer says it is hoped next vessel will be bigger than Liaoning, but denies reports carriers are being built in Shanghai

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 April, 2013, 4:59am

A senior naval officer says China will have more aircraft carriers and they will probably be bigger and more powerful than its first carrier, the Liaoning, which was commissioned in September.

"China will have more than one aircraft carrier," Rear Admiral Song Xue , deputy chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army Navy, told foreign military attaches at a ceremony to celebrate the 64th anniversary of the navy's founding on Tuesday, Xinhua reported.

"We hope the next aircraft carrier can be bigger, because then it would be able to carry more aircraft and be more powerful," he added. Without giving details, he said that some foreign media reports about China building new aircraft carriers in Shanghai were not accurate, Xinhua reported.

It quoted Song as saying that more than a thousand Chinese enterprises had participated in construction and refitting work on the Liaoning over more than a decade. Song is the most senior Chinese naval officer to confirm Beijing's carrier plans, with Asian neighbours concerned about its rising military assertiveness amid territorial disputes in the East and South China seas.

Tensions between Beijing and Tokyo flared again on Tuesday after 168 Japanese lawmakers visited a Tokyo war shrine and both countries sent ships to waters off the disputed Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan, in the East China Sea.

The Chinese navy has also stepped up regular naval patrols and drills in disputed island chains in the South China Sea, which are also claimed in part by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, in the past month.

The PLA Daily said last week that the Liaoning, based on the hull of a Soviet Kuznetsov-class carrier, would have its first high seas trial later this year.

Song said the Liaoning did not belong to any of the PLA Navy's three fleets, but was under the direct command and management of the navy's headquarters, Xinhua reported.

It added that the navy was building aviation forces for future carriers, with one carrier having at least two aviation regiments, including fighters, reconnaissance aircraft, anti-submarine aircraft, electronic countermeasure planes and helicopters.

The Liaoning has a full displacement of more than 50,000 tonnes. Its original design allowed it to carry about 30 fixed-wing aircraft.

While Liaoning currently serves only as a training platform, it has been widely seen as the first step towards some commanders' dream of eventually building a fleet boasting two or more carrier battlegroups. The US, by comparison, has 10 active carriers.

So far the most challenging work for us is how to train more carried-based fighter jet pilots and sailors to co-operate on board smoothly

Senior Colonel Li Jie, a researcher at the PLA Navy's Military Academy in Beijing, said China's next carrier would be based on the structure of the Liaoning and would probably be conventionally powered.

"We have learned a lot of valuable experiences from the reprogramming work of the Liaoning," Li said. "But so far the most challenging work for us is how to train more carried-based fighter jet pilots and sailors to co-operate on board smoothly."

Song said the J-15, China's home-made carrier-based fighter jet, needed more test flights before becoming operational on the carrier, Xinhua reported.